“Spencer is always present. He is always the face available. He’s always communicating with people and because of that, the barrier is somewhat removed. It’s the whole point of it.”
Edgmere Elementary Principal Alisa Stieg was bragging on one of her staff again. She can’t seem to help it.
This time it was Spencer Whitford, the new community coordinator for the school.
It’s his responsibility to knit together Edgemere’s community of parents, teachers, staff, volunteers and donors. Stieg described the role as “a huge thing.”
“We really need those relationships between him and our families to be more than superficial,” Stieg said. “They need to be so close. And our families need to be so close.”
But to watch Whitford interacting with the students, the gravity of the job isn’t weighing him down in his interaction with them at all.
He was teaching sixth and seventh grade Social Studies in the Mid-Del school system up until Edgemere hired him as the community coordinator. So, interacting with the students feels familiar.
The rest of the job is what made it a steep learning curve at the beginning of this school year.
“It’s a lttle bit of an adjustment leaving the classroom,” he said.
He has been undergoing a crash course since summer on the community school concept and most importantly, getting to know the many donors and volunteers as well as parents and members of Friends of Edgemere, a booster club for the school.
“There’s been a lot to digest and take in. But I’m starting to get comfortable with the job,” Whitford said.
The school adopted the community school concept four years ago with Board of Education backing. It’s nearing the end of the 5-year pilot project.
The key element of community schools is getting wrap-around services for inner city children who come to school with unique needs that range across a broad spectrum.
Some children need academic tutoring. Some need health care. Others need mental and emotional support and care.
The concept of community school pivots around a skilled community coordinator whose job is to coordinate needed services for the students.
“The problem with expecting teachers to reach out and coordinate grants and services is that they are already at capacity just trying to bring students up to academic levels that will let them succeed,” said longtime Edgemere volunteer Kelly Pearson.
“That’s where the community coordinator comes in. To get the support students need, it takes someone working full time to get those resources,” she said.
Sunbeam Family Services came to the school and provided social and counseling services to their students.
Eventually Sunbeam stopped serving Edgemere, and so a second plan was put in place.
Red Rock Behavioral Health Services is providing an intern to provide some of the support students were getting from Sunbeam.
Tutoring volunteers from local companies pitch in to help students with academics. And those arrangements are made by the community coordinator.
Although the discretionary fund evaporated after the first year, Pearson and Friends of Edgemere successfully fought to keep the money the district promised to pay a community coordinator until the end of last year.
But, then, drastic state funding cuts resulted in the district abandoning the salary for the community coordinator.
Pearson said Friends of Edgemere knew they would have to step up and raise the money themselves.
“We went to OGE and asked for a grant from the OGE foundation and they granted us the 50,000 so we could hire someone to do that job,” said Pearson. “Without that you’re really not able to have a community school.”
So Whitford is there for this year, and then his work will be determined by further support from donors in the future.
The day we visited, he and another teacher, Jennifer Jackson were taking the volleyball team through some conditioning exercises on the playground.
Stieg said those two just decided volleyball club after school would not be canceled just because their regular volunteer teacher was out sick that day.
“It’s what I love about it,” said Stieg. “We are like a big family.”
Edgemere had a close call last year when it was targeted for closure because of state funding cuts to education. Read about that situation and its impact.